Challenge to the Perimeter Rule could impact region and cause more delays at Reagan National Airport

According to AAA, nearly 51 million people across the United States are expected to travel this Fourth of July, four million of which will do so by flying. Holiday travel can be a nightmare at airports, Reagan National (DCA) here in Greater Washington being no exception. While that certainly does not make DCA unique, what does is the longstanding Perimeter and Slot Rules, ensuring that holiday travel chaos is not an everyday experience for those coming in and out of Reagan National. 

The Perimeter Rule limits nonstop flights at DCA to a maximum of 1,250 miles, unless there is an exemption granted by the Federal Government, of which there are currently 40. While the slot rule dictates the frequency of flights taking off and landing, helping to control congestion. With DCA being constrained by space, limiting the runway and terminal capacity, these rules were and still are necessary to provide travelers with the safest and most efficient services possible.  

While Reagan may be constrained in terms of space, the other two major airports in the region are not. Baltimore Washington International (BWI) and Dulles International (IAD) are both growing and ready to bring on additional flights servicing stops across the county and world. What we have in this region is three airports working together, which they have done for years, to create an ecosystem capable of servicing the residents and visitors of DC and its neighbors.  

Unfortunately, there is an effort making its way through Congress that would change these rules resulting in a far less enjoyable experience at DCA, while upending the functioning ecosystem of our region’s three major airports.  

According to an internal Federal Aviation Administration analysis, which was done in part as a response to a study produced by those in favor of change or elimination of the rules, “additional flights at DCA would likely have a negative impact on operational performance and the passenger experience.” Further, the addition of only 20 daily round trip operations would increase delays by nearly 26% and the addition of 25 daily round trip operations would increase delays by more than a third.  

The additional flights would also contribute to the already strained infrastructure within and around Reagan. From the full parking decks to the gridlocked roadways, and overcrowded terminals, there is only so much capacity that can be handled before significant negative customer experiences become the norm. It is irrelevant how many flights and destinations are added if the service provided is unreliable and chaotic. 

Considerable investments have been made complementing the existing ecosystem of our region’s airports. Just last year, the $3 billion Silver Line extension was completed, providing travelers using IAD direct access to the nation’s capital and surrounding jurisdictions via public transit.  

Upending this functioning and productive relationship between our region’s airports while simultaneously creating a worse customer experience for those using Reagan is what Greater Washington would get in return for changes to the Perimeter and Slot rules. Let’s keep the status quo.